Fanfare

It is claimed that the Martucci is receiving its first commercial recording here, and I assume that the three contributions – very much in a Lisztian/Thalbergian style, by the way – by Wright himself also are new to CD. Even so, this is a disc that seems warmly familiar the first time one hears it: The operatic melodies are part of the cultural vocabulary, as is the ornate, virtuosic garb in which they are presented. There’s no point in recording a program like this one without panache, and this Scottish pianist sells the repertory in question to listeners without cheapening it. He’s a very capable pianist too, although some of the playing on this disc hardly can be called effortless. The peroration of his La sonnambula fantasy, for example, suggests a heroine not in slippers but in sensible shoes as she gingerly picks her way down the staircase leading from the old village mill. On the other hand, the transcription of the “Evening Star” aria from Tannhäuser really sings, and this is doubly difficult because Wright does not seem particularly enamored of the sustaining pedal. In other words, throughout this recital he doesn’t cheat nearly as much as he might!

Wright is a pianist-scholar, and he penned the booklet notes that accompany this release. He writes that his “introduction to this corner of the repertory came through Earl Wild’s 1964 recording of Thalberg’s Don Pasquale Fantasy – a delightful performance which elevated lightweight music through charm and panache.” Wright doesn’t have Wild’s agility, nor his wit, but these sincere, well-prepared performances have much in their favor, and collectors who enjoy this sort of thing should find Wright’s contributions to this genre, both as a pianist and as a performer, enjoyable, as long as their expectations are not unreasonably high.

—Raymond Tuttle